Bolton Wanderers all 'smiles instead of worry' as Keith Hill and David Flitcroft lead club into new era

League One club were saved by a last-minute takeover and their new management team are only looking forward

Keith Hill was named as the new manager of Bolton Wanderers on Saturday. PA
Keith Hill was named as the new manager of Bolton Wanderers on Saturday. PA

It was the Tuesday after the Tuesday before, seven days after Bolton Wanderers could have been expelled from the Football League after 131 years, when liquidation could have beckoned after 145.

“As a Bolton fan, you are thinking: ‘We might not have a club here,’” said David Flitcroft. “It got to that dark point.” A week on, Flitcroft instead is Bolton’s new assistant manager. A club that lost its way – financially and, arguably, ethically – under Ken Anderson’s ruinous regime has new owners, in Football Ventures. It has turned to its own.

“Two Boltonians,” said manager Keith Hill of the new double act in charge. As if to underline that, he was at Astley Bridge cricket club, just north of the town centre, celebrating his granddaughter’s fourth birthday when he discovered Wanderers were appointing him.

He was surrounded by family, the smile on his face revealing the news to his mother. “It was emotional,” he said. “The only disappointment was that our dads weren’t there to witness it.”

He and Flitcroft are reunited. They both boast the town’s distinctive accent. They are reviving a partnership that worked well at Rochdale. “It’s a brilliant day when you find that your hometown club needs you and had come calling,” added Flitcroft.

The context has changed at Wanderers in a week. “There’s smiles instead of worry,” Hill said. “We intend on making sure this remains a family club and rewarding those people who have stuck by this club.”

Doom and gloom has been replaced by the rabble-rousing rhetoric of two men who admit they pursued the job. “We are not civilised,” added Hill. “The owners didn’t have to come and chase us. We were chasing them. When we want to chase people down, me and ‘Flicker’, we are not bad. We are fighters. We are up for this. Now it is a fresh start, a new era. It is a ‘we will rise again’ mentality.”

It needs to be. A Premier League club in 2012, Bolton now have minus 11 points in League One, after being deducted 12 for entering administration, risking relegation to the fourth tier. They are yet to score a league goal this season; teams of kids have overachieved to get a solitary draw.

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The long read: Bolton Wanderers kept alive by passionate fans as club treads a worryingly similar path to Coventry City

Bolton are are currently bottom of League One with minus 11 points. PA
Bolton are are currently bottom of League One with minus 11 points. PA

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They had four senior players earlier this summer. They made nine signings on Monday alone. “We have crammed at least two or three transfer windows into 36 hours,” explained Hill. “It has been in overdrive to get to the point where, after five o’clock, everyone needed a cuddle.”

Now an optimist does not see Bolton’s situation as a lost cause. “Points on the board will start generating a fear factor in opponents, and a fear factor of us achieving the impossible dream which is avoiding relegation,” he said. “We are not playing 39 friendlies.”

Crucially, though, Bolton are still playing. Their neighbours Bury were expelled from the Football League last week. “I was never expecting what happened to Bury to happen,” admitted Hill, who turned down the job at Gigg Lane in the summer. “I thought there was no way it could happen in modern-day football.”

Flitcroft, a former Bury manager, added: “Financial Fair Play has regulated football but it has obviously not regulated it enough. The auditing of FFP and the governance is not working at quite a few football clubs.”

Hill is Rochdale’s greatest ever manager, ran the club on a budget and said he does not even own a credit card himself. He is adamant Bolton will not get into trouble under him.

“Management of finances and not overspending are the key components to my success and the way I live,” he added. “This club will not be a cash cow for anyone.”

Updated: September 3, 2019 08:33 PM

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